ANIMAL BYTES: THE COTTONMOUTH

Meet the world’s only semi-aquatic viper. He swims, he’s got venomous fangs, and he can even squirt a stinky, repelling musk. No wonder he survives so well in a harsh environment like the Everglades.

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  • The cottonmouth can grow to four feet and like all vipers, has a distinctive, triangular head. It has two, very different defense mechanisms: one sinister, and one just disgusting.The first, of course, is it’s hemotoxic venom. It’s hollow, hooked fangs deliver this potent venom which destroys blood cells and tissue, and prevents clotting. If untreated, a bite from a cottonmouth can be deadly for a human, although fatalities are rare and anti-venom treatment is highly effective.The second is less deadly, but really stinky. When threatened, the snake can squirt out a strong, pungent secretion from anal glands near the base of its tail. This “musk” has been described as smelling something like a combination of “sweaty gym shorts” and “billy-goat.” Gross.